Wednesday, December 02, 2009

The state of British theatre

In the Guardian, Mark Lawson presents a survey of the state of British theatre, and asks if it is experiencing a golden age. He includes an assessment of the benefits of writing for the stage:
Before returning to playwriting this year – with two plays, Jerusalem and Parlour Song – Jez Butterworth had spent years in which his major work was screenplay writing; lucrative but often unproduced. "I always think," he says, "that writers in theatre are treated like a painter. Writers in movies are treated like someone hired to paint someone's house and, when they've finished, they're expected, like house-painters, to get the fuck out."

But even here there is a caveat: recent surveys of contemporary playwriting by the Arts Council and the Writers Guild found that many stage dramatists are concerned by a "filmisation" of commissioning, in which producers and script editors have increasing power over texts.
Lawson's conclusions are mixed - some elements are definitely booming, and there's an encouraging amount of new work in some theatres, but the funding position in London and around the country remains patchy and often precarious.

On the Guardian Theatre Blog, Michael Billington adds his point of view.
As always with theatre, utopia remains an unachieved destination. But at least in the last year we've kept it in our sights. I take heart from the fact that our theatre attracts young people, engages with big issues and sees itself as a vital part of society rather than a mere factory of dreams.
Update (3.12.09): Lyn Gardner has her say, too:
British theatre has an iceberg-like structure: narrow at the top, wide at the base. Theatremakers and audiences are engaged in huge amounts of activity below the waterline, and often evade the attention of those who have their eyes fixed only on the top. If we want to talk about a golden age – perhaps golden promise is a better phrase? – we should recognise that none of this is happening in isolation. It's happening because of so much has been going on, sometimes invisibly to many journalists and critics, over the last 10 years, and which continues, often against the odds and despite the huge slash in grants for the arts.

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